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MCP Collaboration Continues at Peacock Place

Dr. Jay Mittal’s Urban Economics and Dr. Sweta Byahut’s Sustainable Transportation graduate classes on a site visit to the Peacock Place neighborhood accompanied with the City of Montgomery staff

In the Fall of 2014, Dr. Jay Mittal’s Urban Economics and Dr. Sweta Byahut’s Sustainable Transportation graduate classes collaborated with the City of Montgomery to assist it in developing revitalization strategies for the Peacock Place neighborhood. This work was supported by Auburn University’s Outreach Grant.  They assisted the city in preparing a strategic community revitalization plan for this inner city neighborhood, an area of national historic significance as it forms part of the Selma to Montgomery National Historic trail. In March 2015 the City of Montgomery celebrates the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights march led by Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., and all eyes of the world will be focused on the city. This community was once a proud and thriving community, but is now plagued by social, political and economic ills, blight, abandoned and dilapidated structures, and other issues associated with serious inner city decline. Therefore the broader objectives of the project were to develop solutions that can help the community overcome this decline through strategies that are inclusive and sustainable, celebrate local history and culture, serve the locals, help regenerate local livelihoods, restore local economies, and build community pride. Specifically, the communities southwest of the downtown and in close proximity to the State Capitol where major employment centers are located were selected for this outreach project including the Oak, Jeff Davis, Holt, and Mobile streets.

The students in Dr. Mittal’s urban economics class first examined the locational advantages of the neighborhood within the city and region and the assets within it. The class focused on the following three strategic interventions: image building, amenity improvement, and business improvement in the local community. In the absence of a thriving local economy and a depressed land market, students explored regional assets that the neighborhood can draw upon while exploring growth options and business opportunities that the communities can capitalize on, such as its historic significance, its central location and easy access to downtown and daytime workforce, presence of local universities, sport and stadiums, entertainment, public buildings, excellent schools, local churches and institutions, as well as the availability of significant regional infrastructure such as highways and public transportation. Students came up with creative ideas such as incubation centers to foster local entrepreneurship, real estate led redevelopment proposals in strategic locations, explored strategic city-community-business-non profit partnerships and opportunities to develop human capital and training, ideas to integrate a diverse range of community and corporate investors to create viable and vibrant communities, and strategies to integrate community into the regional economic system.

The students in Dr. Byahut’s sustainable transportation class studied the three miles of the national historic trail route that passes through the Peacock Place neighborhood and other streets in the area. Students developed complete streets designs for the four selected streets and came up with innovative ideas to address a critical neighborhood constraint – the intersection of two interstates that did considerable damage in the neighborhood during the urban renewal period. Students worked in groups and detailed out proposals for specific corridors along the Oak, Jeff Davis, Holt, and Mobile Streets. Students developed recommendations for improving the bicycle and pedestrian facilities, intersection improvements, street connectivity, transit accessibility, and other recommendations such as noise barrier solutions to mitigate the highway noise and urban farming or urban art spaces under the freeways, etc. First the students analyzed the existing situation and then prepared proposals for bicycle and sidewalk improvement, street and intersection design, improve connectivity and access to properties, and improvements to transit and parking facilities. The objective was to develop design options that would improve the walking and biking experience not only along the streets but also beneath the two freeway overpasses and their intersection, and also improving the physical appearance of the neighborhood.

While working on the revitalization plan, students benefited from interactions with officials of the City of Montgomery’s planning department that helped them understand the specific constraints neighborhood and also receive feedback on their ideas.  The city officials provided full access to its GIS database, considerable time and involvement, support to the students during their site visits, and were also present to review their final presentations.  The multidisciplinary composition of the students in both the classes enabled them to collaboratively bring in their knowledge of urban planning, real estate and economic development, GIS, engineering, land use and transportation, urban design and landscape planning. Since this outreach effort involved collaboration of academia with the city, one the one hand it benefitted the local community by developing meaningful and practical outcomes that can help build momentum for inner city revitalization, and on the other hand it helped enhance student learning outcomes as they were able to actively engage with the local communities, the city officials and other stakeholders while providing them with a hands-on learning experience.